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Blazing New Trails

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Students can follow a walking path away from Franklin Community High School to U.S. 31, but then the sidewalk ends.

Franklin residents have a new high school, but good luck getting to it by foot or on a bicycle. With no trails or sidewalks connecting the school to residential areas, driving is the only safe option, city council member Richard Wertz said.

But now city officials are pushing plans to not only create a connection to the school but also fill in gaps in the Franklin trail system with the goal of creating an

eight-mile loop around the city. Current trails in the city and at the high school total about 7.5 miles but don’t form a circuit.

Officials are starting to look at the city map and exploring ways to connect the current Historic Greenway Trail, mainly located in southern Franklin, and future sidewalks from the downtown gateway and streetscape programs, along State Road 44 from County Road 144 to Interstate 65, with the rest of the city.

The city has about 4.2 miles of trails along the Historic Greenway Trail, which runs mostly along Youngs and Hurricane creeks from Hospital Road to Needham Elementary School. The trail at Franklin Community High School loops the campus and extends to U.S. 31 along Commerce Drive, running about 3.2 miles.

The biggest holes are along the west and northern parts of the city, from the area near Johnson Memorial Hospital to the high school, then from the high school east to eventually connect with Eastview Drive. The city also would extend a path from the high school to Knollwood Farms on the city’s north side, which was included as part of a $3.6 million park loan taken out last year.

Not only would the trails give residents a new loop to walk or bike for exercise but also would create a new way for people to get around the city without having to walk along a busy road like U.S. 31, officials said.

City officials aren’t sure how much the project would cost, but the total is expected to be more than $1 million, Franklin parks superintendent Chip Orner said. Part of the money could come from from city’s tax-increment financing districts, which set aside property tax dollars from businesses to be used for economic development.

The city would need to build about four miles of new trails and add walking bridges over five creeks. Constructing new asphalt walking paths can cost $100,000 to $150,000 per mile, and the city also will likely need to purchase some land in order to build the new trails, officials said.

The city plans to apply for a state planning grant that would pay to hire a consultant to review the current trails and sidewalks, plot the best routes for new trails and estimate the cost to build them.

The high school has its own walking trail, but there aren’t trails or sidewalks that connect to it. The school is one of the largest activity hubs in Franklin, but people can’t safely get to it for classes or sporting events without driving, Wertz said.

“Several of our citizens are really enjoying the bike, walking, jogging trail that we have. But what really got to me was that there is no way for the children of Franklin’s east side and west side of (U.S.) 31 to safely walk, jog or ride a bike to the high school,” Wertz said.

Fewer than 25 students walk or ride bikes to the high school, and most of those come from the nearby subdivision on Branigin Road, Franklin Community High School Principal Doug Harter said. Connecting the high school with trails could give students an alternative way to get to school and allow city residents to use the school trail or athletic facilities more often, he said.

“That would be a real effort just as another way to tie the community to the school. There were some people that were upset when they moved the high school out here. This is another way to connect the school back into the community physically,” Harter said.

The project also would allow the city to connect Knollwood Farms, said city council member Joe Abban, who lives in and represents the subdivision. The subdivision lacks parks or walking trails, so having a path to the north end of the high school would be a good start to connect with the rest of the city.

“Because the high school is there and its location, it’s perfect for those of us on the northwest side. It’s in the perfect location to bring the whole city together,” he said.

Connecting all of the city trails into a loop is a project that’s been on the city’s long-range parks plan, but Wertz and Abban would like to see the plan accelerated. Wertz mentioned the trails plans to the redevelopment commission, which could eventually pay for some of the trails east of U.S. 31. Mayor Joe McGuinness also expects Wertz or Abban to start a discussion soon with other city council members about the potential project.

The city would be able to use money from tax-increment financing districts for trails on the east side of U.S. 31, Wertz said. Those special taxing districts, which set aside property tax dollars from certain businesses, are only in place east of the highway, Wertz said. Any trails needed west of U.S. 31 would have to be paid for another way, such as through city savings or grants.

McGuinness would like to see a study of the trails system that outlines possible routes and costs and have discussions with the park board and city council before deciding how to proceed and how to pay for the trails.

The city also would have to work with county government, since two proposed trails north and south of the high school would cut through land that’s not within the city limits, McGuinness said.

Franklin would need to add five walking bridges that would cross creeks and could look into breakaway bridges that would lift off of one side of a creek during a flood, Orner said. In some areas, like the residential areas north of Johnson Memorial Hospital, the city could designate current sidewalks as part of the trail and save on having to install new walking paths.

For example, the sidewalks that will be built with the streetscape project along East King Street would connect to the Paris Estates subdivision near I-65.

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